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April 11, 2015

Change Leader, Beware These Pitfalls



Reacting Is Not Resisting

To improve your effectiveness at leading change remember one mantra, “reaction does not equal resistance.”  When you are satisfied or at least comfortable in a situation and you have to change it’s natural to react.  Our reactions can range from surprise, to shock, to disbelief.  But expressing our surprise and asking questions for better understanding is not the same as resisting the change.  Failure to turn cartwheels in celebration is not the same as resisting.  Resisting is purposefully impeding the change, either passively or actively.

So what drives someone from their natural reaction to a change to subversive resistance?  At the heart of the answer is the feeling that the expression of their surprise, shock or disbelief cannot be voiced and honored.  We cannot change the way people feel about a change, but we can intensify those feelings by ignoring, discounting or demeaning them.

Some leaders seem to believe that listening to angsts and concerns conveys agreement with the feelings.  It doesn’t.  You cannot change the way another person feels about something, they have to change it.  You can assist their change by acknowledging and honoring their feelings.  This requires purposeful listening.  What you can do is help to drive them into resistance.  The moment you tell me I shouldn’t or don’t feel the way I am feeling, the path to resistance is paved.

The Emotions That Lead to Resistance

Let’s be honest and state the obvious.  Change is messy and it’s likely to stay that way.  Even with our best efforts to “manage change”, it’s still messy.  People react emotionally to change and the emotions are usually more negative than positive.  So why not accept this as a predictable part of any change and focus on how to best work with these emotions rather than ignoring them or sweeping them under the proverbial carpet.

The first step in this effort is to understand that reacting to change is not the same as resisting change.  The emotions typically associated with reacting to change include anxiety, confusion and vulnerability.  When these emotions are not acknowledged they tend to morph into frustration, distrust and fatigue which are the emotions that lead to resistance.  Resistance is the by-product of poorly managing the emotions that naturally accompany change.  When you tell me I shouldn’t be confused, I become frustrated.  When you tell me I should be anxious, I become distrustful.

Leaders can learn to work with these emotions and help others with the resolution of negative emotions into purpose, trust, honesty and compassion.  But the first step is acknowledging and accepting our own negative emotions.  Once we’ve put our own oxygen mask on then we can try to help the person next to us.

The Emotions That Lead to Resiliency

We know the emotions that lead to resistance include anxiety, confusion, frustration and fatigue.  We also know which emotions increase our resiliency – purpose, enthusiasm, optimism and confidence.  If we expect people to give up something that is familiar but arguably ineffective then they want to see how the change improves their world for the better.  What’s the purpose?  The purpose needs to generate enthusiasm.  Leaders should be optimistic about the changes, even if they are negatively impacted by the change.  And finally, they need to express confidence that this change is possible.

So if a leader cannot articulate a purpose for change that extends benefit beyond his/her own interest, doesn’t show enthusiasm for the change, isn’t optimistic and cannot communicate confidence that the change can be successful, then why should anyone follow.

When a change is ill-conceived and poorly executed, not only is the current change initiative damaged but the success of all future changes are jeopardized.  When leaders approach change with clear purpose, enthusiasm, optimism and confidence, the outcomes are more likely to be successful and the organization is a step closer to a culture of resiliency.

For 25 years Discovery Learning, Inc. has been designing programs to help organizations develop better change leaders. Check out our latest research on Change Leaders!

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